5 tips to mindfully prepare for focused work
Whenever I used to sit down to do an important piece of work, I often would just launch into it and hope for the best. Hope that if I concentrated and used enough willpower, I would get done what I intended to do. I used this method for many years. It sometimes worked, but more often than not, it didn’t work and I felt frustrated or exhausted after. Many times, a task would just drag on and I would have to complete it by working late into the night to meet a deadline. This started to have an impact on the quality of my work and also on my well-being which led me to the path of searching for a kinder way of working. A way of working which could support my concentration, help me to be more realistic with what I could achieve, and be gentle with myself in the process.
Here is what I do now.
1. Remove all distractions
Our modern world isn’t necessarily supporting focused work. Distractions are everywhere — email, social media, and other networking tools. They ask for our constant engagement and they create rabbit holes that we can easily fall into.
So the first thing I do before I sit down to do focused work is to look at all the things in my environment that have the potential to distract me. Then I remove them. For example, I turn off my phone or put it out of sight for the duration of the working session. Also, I close all open tabs on my laptop if I’m working on a digital file or document.
2. Start with gentle movement
I’m aware that most of us lead full lives with multiple commitments which make it hard to prioritise movement throughout the day. But all it takes to get in touch with your body ahead of a focused working session are a few minutes of mindful movements that can be done from your chair. Some gentle head and shoulder movements, followed by a few stretches and gentle wrist movements are great ways to get in touch with your body.
If you feel really adventurous, I also encourage you to get up from your chair and gently move your entire body. A bit of dancing, with or without music, is also a really enjoyable way to wake up and move your body.
Try to observe how it feels to move different parts of your body, without judging the sensations that are arising. Does it feel soft or does it feel stiff? Just notice it.
Once your body feels more awake, it’s helpful to move into a short meditation. It’s a chance to ground yourself, settle into the present moment and start to move your attention to your work.
I usually start with some deep breaths to shift from the chatter that’s going on in my head and land deeper into my body. I start to notice the sensations that arrive when air fills my body and how it feels as I exhale.
During the meditation, I then get in touch with what I want to work on, what this work means to me, and what it would mean to the people I’m serving.
4. Set your intentions
Intentions are powerful. Setting specific intentions should give your work direction. If you spend some time during your meditation to feel into what you would like to work on, it should be easier to set your intentions. Also, unlike goals, intentions do not feel as restrictive. Even if you don’t complete the work you intended to do during a focused working session, you can leave the session having shown up and made progress towards the work that is meaningful to you, which should still be very encouraging.
Alongside your intentions, you can also ask yourself ‘What energy do I want to bring to the working session?’ Do you want to feel inspired? Do you want to feel energised, focused or do you want to feel grounded?
5. Set a timer
Finally, it’s helpful to set a timer for your working session. I personally recommend a 52-minute working session (here is why). A set time can be really helpful to bring you back to focus when you notice that your mind starts to wonder. It also encourages that you take breaks after each working session.
Getting into the practice of setting a timer can also help you to better judge how much is actually achievable in that timeframe given a distraction-free environment.
May these tips also inspire you to implement a more mindful way of preparing for doing the work that matters most to you.